jazzfish: Randall Munroe, xkcd180 ("If you die in Canada, you die in Real Life!") (Canada)
[personal profile] jazzfish
ABOUT fourteen years ago I fell into a career path of software testing and tech writing. I'm good at both those things and they paid well (better than minimum wage, anyhow), so I kept doing them.

It took me a long time to realise that being good at something that pays well doesn't automatically translate into enjoying it.

That came easier and faster with testing. When I got the offer for my last job, I'd also been invited to fly out to Seattle to interview for a testing position. As I recall the money was about the same (maybe a little less?), and Seattle would have had its own attractions. But I took the tech writing job and never looked back.

There are things about testing I like: the creativity in finding ways to break things, the sense that I'm working to make some user's life better, and, yeah, the sense of superiority over stupid developers. There's also a lot to hate: the frustration in knowing that some things will never be fixed at all and more will never be fixed to my standards, the general lack of status in any software company. In the right environment I could be convinced to be a tester again but I'm not convinced the right environment exists.



I STARTED working at my last job in 2006. I liked my coworkers and the general atmosphere (developers who answer questions!) immediately. It took me a couple of weeks to realise that I felt strange doing the actual job. I was working for a company that didn't make software for people: we made software that we sold to companies, so they could sell other things to people more efficiently. This struck me as deeply absurd. The useless wheel-spinning of corporate America, and me right in the middle of it.

But hey, they paid well.

That was enough for awhile. I'm not sure exactly how long because I didn't write much about work. I know that after about three years I'd become resigned to the idea that nothing would ever be Done to my satisfaction, that we'd always have far more work than time to do it right. That was disheartening.

I got put on a Facebook-related data mining project sometime after I moved out here, I think. That was definitely the point where I started to question whether this was really a company I wanted to continue to be involved with.

But I couldn't stop. I wanted to get permanent residency in Canada, and [personal profile] uilos didn't have a job yet but we kept thinking one was just a few months around the corner.

So I kept at the job, and my performance slipped because I was doing progressively less and less work, and doing it less and less well, because I just couldn't bring myself to care. I don't know how to describe it any better than that. I cared a great deal about not losing the job, and the threat of losing it wasn't enough to get me to work any better.

"In hindsight, it should have been clear there was a problem when I began fantasizing about being a garbage truck driver."

Shades of late-2001/early-2002 and the second worst job I've ever had. Unlike early 2002, this time I was able to keep it sufficiently together long enough for other things to get sorted out. And... I still couldn't stop.



I MEAN, maybe I could have. I could have been stopped, I guess. But... not working. Not producing income, not contributing to the household. Dipping into savings. That terrified me. (I'm doing it now and it still terrifies me. I can only do it because I don't think about it.)

I'd been talking with my counselor about my poor work performance for, oh, years, I guess. Once immigration and [personal profile] uilos-job came through, she managed to convince me to at least take a break from work of several months.

So I talked to my boss about that, laying the groundwork for a three-month sabbatical once a couple of my current projects wrapped up. I couldn't say "I want to quit." I could hardly think it.

And then the company's financial state was revealed to be shaky at best, and they decided to pay me to not work for them anymore. Which neatly sliced that particular Gordian knot.



I'VE BEEN out of work for coming on four months now. I've spent the time trying to figure out who I am when there's nothing I have to do.

I still have very little idea.

I'm not writing. I've dabbled in fiction and I'm running a weekly RPG and that's about all the creative I've got going on.

I exercise but that has more to do with my awful ignore/hate relationship with my body than anything. I'm keeping up with viola and I don't understand why. I'm terrible at it, but of course I am, I started less than two months ago. I cannot tell if I like it or if it's just something I'm doing.

I do household chores. I read. I poke at the internet, but less than I used to. I play startlingly few video games. I pet the cats, I nap on the couch. I try to leave the apartment building at least once a day. On rare occasions I do something sociable.

I don't know what I'm doing with myself. To the left, I'm not doing anything with myself, and that doesn't come as a surprise.

"My wasteful and unproductive time was the only time I asked: What should I be doing? What is a worthwhile life? And so it followed that was the only time when I could start to answer those questions."

I know a bunch of things that aren't the answer to 'what do i want to do.' For instance: I'm good at tech writing, and it pays reasonably well, and I can see absolutely no reason why going back to a job in tech writing would end any differently: miserable, burnt-out, feeling obligated to keep going because it's making money.

I don't know what the answer is. I don't even know how to find it. Yeah, yeah, patience, how long will THAT take? I don't know how to find what I love beyond seeing what I do when I'm not doing anything.

Wait and see, I guess.



A footnote: it might be music, either viola or cello. Arguments against: it is even less possible to make money as a musician than it is as a writer, and I was not a very good cellist even after eight years.

Date: 2014-12-17 01:43 pm (UTC)
okrablossom: (high five leaf)
From: [personal profile] okrablossom
I just wanted you to know that I read this and I heard you. And I encourage you to keep doing the things that make you feel good, even if you can't fathom why you want to keep doing them. I deeply believe that eventually you will feel better.

Date: 2014-12-18 03:36 am (UTC)
cislyn: (booky)
From: [personal profile] cislyn
Holy shit, did I need to read that "against productivity" link right now. That... resonated. A lot.

I hope you can keep being patient with yourself. It's hard, I know, when so many things are tangled up with money and worth and all of that. It's ok to meander, to wander and try to figure things out, or to just be. *hugs*

Date: 2014-12-18 06:24 pm (UTC)
tam_nonlinear: (Default)
From: [personal profile] tam_nonlinear
Going on eight months as a burden to society, here. You have my sympathies. I don't want to have to figure out what to do when I'm grown up AGAIN.

ETA: six months burden to society, two months generic layabout, since unemployment is up.
Edited Date: 2014-12-18 06:27 pm (UTC)

Date: 2014-12-17 05:24 pm (UTC)
ext_959848: FeatherFlow (Default)
From: [identity profile] blairmacg.livejournal.com
Burnout is far harsher than most folks realize. It's like grief--mostly invisible, and rarely spoken of until the person dealing with it is on the other side. It's not a small thing, so I'm glad you're able to invest time to both feel it and deal with it.

Been there. Stopped seeing clients (other than friends and family) this spring, and am much the happier for it.

I hope you find a Happy Thing that both makes you some money and satisfies your heart. :)

Date: 2014-12-17 09:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] queenoftheskies.livejournal.com
Oh, wow, thanks for that link. That sounds oddly familiar.

I'm sorry you're going through it. ::HUGS::

Music would be a wonderful thing to love doing. Don't discount it completely as not a way to make money. My youngest is a music major and you'd be amazed at the possibilities. (He's majoring in performance.) If you love it, that's what counts.

Date: 2014-12-17 11:42 pm (UTC)
rbandrews: (Default)
From: [personal profile] rbandrews
When I was at Imagitek (Prodagio Software now), I used to fantasize about being a bird.

I'd always see birds outside the windows when I was in meetings (our offices were next to a marina) and I'd think, you know, if I was a bird I wouldn't have to do this, I could just fly around and catch bugs and build a nest. Birds probably have pretty good lives.

Date: 2014-12-19 04:35 am (UTC)
rbandrews: (Default)
From: [personal profile] rbandrews
They don't have nervous systems though. If I were a lily I wouldn't be aware of it. Birds have tiny brains, but they're there.

Date: 2014-12-20 09:02 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rainbowk.livejournal.com
You're at loose ends. That happens. You'll survive it. The question, as always, is what will you make with the life given to you?

There was an exercise I did a few years ago (apparently 2005, oh god, oh god, that was YEARS AGO, oh god, I was a baby), and the reason I mention it is because I wonder if it would be useful for you.

It starts out with the simple practice of every day listing "Ten things I like to do". Just the first ten things that pop into your head, basically.

For example, my September 14, 2005 list was "Ten things I like to do are: lounging on my couch in warm clothes drinking tea and reading, be in water (hot or cold), talk about concepts and feelings, travel to new places, play with babies, cook good food, play games, sit in the sun, connect with different generations and learn their stories, and play with dogs."

Every day there will likely be pieces of the list that are different and pieces that are the same. For example, my September 16, 2005 list is this: "Ten things I like to do are: read, eat good food (read: "chicken stir fry"), play games, travel, write in my (live)journal, think and talk about relationships, feel creatively accomplished, drive, do greasy mechanical things to my car, and figure things out (emotional, spiritual, practical, whatever)."

After a few weeks of this, you can add a second part, where you brainstorm three ways you could make money doing one of the things on your list: "Three ways I could make money doing greasy mechanical things to cars are: do the BCIT Auto Mechanic course and go be an auto mechanic; do basic mechanical tasks for friends/relatives/acquaintances right now with the level of competence I already have, i.e., changing oil, rotating tires, brakes, and other basic maintenance; and make and sell art with cool greasy mechanical parts out of cars."

The important thing is that it's just a brainstorming activity, so very little judgment allowed. It doesn't have to be practical, just possible at all. You're not required to ever act on any of your likes or possibilities. Just let it be there in your life.

It's actually quite fun to go back and read mine. I have a life now that includes many of the things I like (in a way that my life then didn't), and a job that encompasses a lot more of the things that I say that I like, and who's to say that this didn't help to guide me a little towards that, even if that guidance was subtle.

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Adventures in Mamboland

"Jazz Fish, a saxophone playing wanderer, finds himself in Mamboland at a critical phase in his life." --Howie Green, on his book Jazz Fish Zen

Yeah. That sounds about right.

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